strategic consultant to:  

~ serial CEOs & CTOs in software, Internet, technology & digital media
~ experienced consultants in all fields to maximize their practices

In my consulting work with CEOs optimizing their early stage tech ventures, and with expert consultants maximizing their practices, I train my over-committed clients to “work smarter.”   Here continues a series of articles sharing some of those tactics.

Setting boundaries and saying no

None of the working-smart tactics are of much use if you do not set your own boundaries of what you will and will not do.

If you allow your schedule to be compromised consistently (see #1 Time Management ), you will return to the inefficient and stressful putting-out-fires style of management that hurts you, your workers, and your bottom line.

If you assess that an opportunity is likely to be low-margin or no-margin or high-maintenance (see #2 Watch your Margins ), and you pursue it anyway, rather than refusing it or avoiding bidding for it, you will again return to inefficient and stressful experiences for you and your team.

We are not trained to say “no.”  We are trained to “be polite,” to “not rock the boat.”  We are all trained to avoid conflict.

And yet, the ability and discipline to say “no” will return your profit and your balance to your venture.

You can say no and still be polite, especially if you apply your assessment of the opportunity early, before anyone else’s expectations are set.  You can learn phrases that work to put aside any low-margin work.

  • “Thanks, but we don’t have the available resources to handle this project to the best of our ability at this time.”
  • “Yes, thanks, we will see if we can match that bid, and if we can, we will get back to you.”
  • “I appreciate your interest, but I am overbooked with deadlines for the next 3 or 4 months, and couldn’t give you the attention you need during that time.  I would want to do an excellent job, and right now I can’t promise that.”

This boundary-setting is part of each of the other “working smart” elements: setting meeting schedules, sticking to your structure, scheduling your buffer time and your organization/private time so you are most efficient every day, and assessing, then turning away work with minimal margin.

These disciplines are not learned overnight.  They require practice over time.  But if you try them, and remember to notice the results, you will find that these approaches work and that nothing as dreadful as you imagined actually occurs when you say no.

After awhile, all these tactics are embedded in your business dealings every day, and you find a better balance, and a better bottom line.